Top Archeological Sites to Visit in Cancun

By: Robert Thomson

Located on a peninsula along Florida's Emerald Coast, Destin, Florida is a tourist destination known for white sandy beaches and beautiful emerald waters. The sands are said to be some of the whitest in the world and originate from The Appalachians, where finely ground quartz crystal flows down the Apalachiola River and is deposited into the nearby Gulf of Mexico. The warm waters host an abundant variety of sea life that includes turtles, dolphins, and an eye-dazzling display of tropical fish. Game fish also abound, so much so that Destin is known as "The World's Luckiest Fishing Village".

It was this wealth of fish that drew Captain Leonard Destin from his home in New London, Connecticut in 1845 to the village he would later claim. Already home to indigenous Native Americans dating back to the 7th century AD, the village began to grow as eager young fishermen settled there. Fishing camps sprang up along what would become the Moreno Point Military Reservation and through the Captain's pioneering efforts, the village eventually evolved into a premier fishing industry.

As more settlers arrived in Destin, they built homes, churches and schools. The first school session and the first church meeting were both conducted in the living room of one of Destin's notable first citizens, Bill Marler, an entrepreneur who besides being one of the village's leading boat builders also offered funeral and burial services to the villagers. In 1899, Marler started the village's first postal service, and served as general postmaster until he retired in 1945, leaving the duties to his children. A good friend and employee of Captain Destin, Marler was the one to christen the village in his friend's honor.

Another Destin resident John Maltezos, a Greek immigrant and successful entrepreneur, came to Destin's shores in 1922 and became one of the village's leading boat builders. His most famed vessel, "The Primrose," is currently on display in the Destin Historical Museum.

Although originally a commercial fishing village, Destin's sunny climate, remarkable sea life and warm beaches began to draw those wanting adventure. A group of local fishermen astutely decided that there was more money in offering tours to visitors who wanted to big game fish. In the subsequent years, tourism to the village grew at such a rate until Destin could proudly boast that it had the largest charter fleet in Florida. This is true even today.

The 70s saw a proliferation of real estate development along the coast line including hotels, motels and condominiums. The village had now become a resort town with events such as the Gulf Coast Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo, first held in 1949, that guaranteed to draw hundreds of visitors. To lure even more tourists, Destin also built man made attractions, including the Big Kahuna, a popular water and adventure park and several malls for shoppers.

After nearly 150 years as a fishing and tourist destination, Destin finally became incorporated in 1984 and, according to the 2000 Census, is home to over 11,000 Cancun, Mexico is well known for its turquoise waters, white sand beaches and beautiful people. The coastal city is a vacationer's fantasy, with over one hundred and fifty hotels, huge malls, theme parks, dolphins, jet skiing, beautiful sunsets and so much more. Millions come to enjoy the sights, sounds, nightlife and fun. However, millions also come for the archeological glory within Cancun and in the surrounding areas.

The Tulum Ruins are one of the most well known of Cancun's archeological sites. This walled Mayan city was a major commercial port. Walking through this ancient city, visitors can see the Castillo, or lighthouse, the most famous structure of Tulum. As well, you can see the Temple of the Descending God, with a figure, sculpted head down, that's thought to be a god worshiped by the Tulum Mayans.

The Temple of the Initial Series is an excellent place to see several stucco figures and the Temple of Frescos is filled with fading murals. The palatial House of the Columns, with its, six columns is also a worthy and interesting site.

Chichen-Itza, a World Heritage Site, has over 20 stone temples and the Pyramid of Kukulcan, one of the 7 New Wonders of the World. The Pyramid is around seventy-five feet tall, built for astronomical viewing. The many temples hold interesting bas-relief sculptures and an awe-inspiring sense of the ages. Due to the high amount of well-preserved ruins and the importance of this site, Chichen- Itza is Mexico's second most visited archeological spot.

Cova, 120 miles south of Cancun, rests on the Riviera Maya. Meaning "water stirred by wind" in Mayan, Coba dates back as far as 500 A.C. Only partially uncovered, Coba has several big structures to tantalize the imagination of visitors. Throughout the city are a number of elaborately carved stone tablets (stelae), as well as over 5,000 structures, most still covered by dense, deep jungle. One of these structures, a 138 foot pyramid called Nohoch Mul, or "big mound", provides a stunning view of the green jungle landscape below.

El Rey, within Cancun's hotel zone, was named "Ruins of the King" after a stone sculpture. The sculpture depicted a crowned head, perhaps a sculpting of a Mayan noble. El Rey dates back to around the 3rd century B.C., has two main plazas instead of the usual one, and stucco paintings as well as several religious temples. However, one of the main attractions is the high number of iguanas sunning themselves in the ruins, unafraid of humans and able to be fed.

El Meco is also situated in Cancun, about 6 kilometers north of downtown. A possible major Mayan commercial port, the city holds the El Castillo Pyramid, as well as several smaller structures. Although not much is known about El Meco and much of what is known is conjecture, the structures are thought to be government, religious and commercial trade buildings.

The plush grounds, trees and beautiful ruins are part of what draw tourists to these Mayan ruins. The site has only recently been opened, having taken some ten years to clear away debris, but schoolchildren, couples and visitors alike enjoy this wonderful glimpse into Mayan history.

Kohunlich, located in the jungle, held varying populations, all contributing to the many construction periods. The Temple of Masks, also known as the Temple of sun, has eight well-preserved stucco masks representing the sun god. Much of Kohunlich is unexcavated and contains around two hundred mounds. The raised platforms, courtyards, plazas and citadels of the ruins draw the adventurous and archeology enthusiasts alike.

Cancun and the surrounding areas hold an abundance of ruins, many nestled in the jungles and found only by following beaten paths. Other ruins are surrounded by modern architecture, a solitary reminder of what came before. No matter what type of historical adventure you want to have, however, you'll find them all at the archeological sites of Cancun, Mexico.permanent residents. Visitors continue to flock there every year and the city has evolved into a world-class resort. Many of the varied offerings include a seafood festival held every October. Here tourists and locals gather for a weekend of fresh seafood and viewing the work of local artists. Scuba enthusiasts can swim along man-made reefs where sea life such as stingrays, groupers and cobia congregate. Shoppers will find many outlets for books, clothes and art; later, they can stop off at a variety of seafood and ethnic restaurants or take in a movie. Destin offers 12 beach access points for those who want to soak up some sun along the warm beaches. One of the access points is the Henderson Beach State Recreation Area, where visitors can swim, bike, hike and explore the surrounding wildlife.

For those who simply want to fish, know that the city has never left its roots. Visitors can charter fishing boats to take them off the coast where, like Captain Destin, they will find a bountiful assortment of fish they can boast to their friends about.

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